customer service

We all know the basic fundamentals in delivering exceptional customer service; good communication skills, a friendly personality, patience, empathy and smiling is important. However these qualities alone will not create a customer focussed environment.

Many businesses, government agencies and non-profit organizations are becoming more aware of the need to identify who their customers are and take strategic steps to create a positive experience.

Too often we concentrate all our efforts and energy on customers; not as much effort is considered with employees. An important fact to consider is that employees are the very people that serve your customers. They also influence the culture in your organisation. Overlook employees and they will eventually become tired, burn out, negative and dispassionate.

It is important that your customer service strategy considers your customers and employees with equal importance.

While the exact nature of a customer service strategy will vary from one business to another, there are a few basic factors that should be considered in any setting.

  • Identify your customers
  • Assess the needs and wants of your customers
  • Establish a Customer Service vision – this step is important for everyone to understand their role in achieving the vision. Consider incorporating the organisations values and behaviours – its acts as a foundation on what you are all about.
  • Implement and communicate your Customer Service standards and expectations – include marketing and delivery
  • Accountability – it is important for all staff to be held accountable in achieving the standards and expectations.
  • They need to understand how „their“ service will affect the company’s overall performance. It is a cultural expectation.
  • Training – Focus on how the organisation expects each employee to behaviour in any given situation. Training should include; how to respond to complaints, managing angry customers, addressing customers needs, how to speak and interact with customers.
  • Focus on recruiting and retaining good employees
  • Reward and recognition – create a system for acknowledging and rewarding employees. Positive reinforcement for desired behaviours.
  • Measure your Customer Service satisfaction levels regularly
  • Review your strategy and modify as required

Take the time to develop and implement your customer service strategy. Organisations with an exceptional service culture did not achieve this by accident. They have strategies that encompass their business goals, these goals also impact corporate objectives and priorities. A well defined and executed strategy is the first step in achieving an exceptional service culture.

123

In all business turnaround situations there are certain steps that are commonly taken to change the fortunes of a failing business.

The owner of a less than successful business may require professional expert help to arrest the business demise and to create value for the organization. The task of managing the required change may be beyond the owner’s skill set or too much emotional sentiment may exist that may preclude the owner from taking the tough ‚business saving decisions‘.

Is there a standard process to be adopted in business turnarounds?

All business situations are different and, therefore, merit different approaches and emphasis on different aspects of the work. However, there are some steps that are generally considered in many successful business turnaround situations and ten of the most relevant are given below:

1. Review and Assess the Present Situation
In a business turnaround it is important to understand fully the starting position. It will be important to gather objective and anecdotal data in order to review the situation and to determine the causes, as well as to comprehend the immediate effects, of the issues impacting the business.

Management accounts, the sales order book, financial arrangements, internal controls, customer service levels, quality and leadership skills are typical areas that will require evaluation and a view taken on.

2. Develop Plans and Business Strategy
After assessing what is required to be changed for the business turnaround to be successful, it will be necessary to develop robust plans and strategy that will achieve success.

Without doubt it will be necessary to comprehensively document the actions to be taken, the timings, the financial impact of those actions and to obtain ‚buy-in‘ from the business owner.

The benefits of writing the business plan include that of a reference against which actual results can be measured and an indication to third parties that the proposed business turnaround plan has been carefully evaluated and is a viable proposition that should be supported. This will be an important and relevant form of communication to investors, staff and others who may need to know what the businesses future plans are.


3. Communicate With Key Employees
For the business turnaround to gain momentum it will be necessary to meet with managers and key personnel. The current business affairs should be explained and the consequences of not taking corrective action should be made known. An outline of the proposed actions to be taken should also be communicated and a request for comments should be sought.

Whilst it may not be possible to answer detailed questions it will be important to elicit the concerns of this group and address them as positively as possible.

Members of this group will critical to the success of the business turnaround. They will be charged with taking the planned actions and delivering the results; consequently it will be imperative that the group act as a team and are committed to the future plans.


4. Communicate With Other Employees
It will be necessary at the earliest opportunity to meet with all employees or their union representatives, particularly if job losses are planned.

A prolonged period of uncertainty, fuelled by rumour and counter rumour, will not be beneficial to the business and whilst bad news may not be easy to deliver, the communication of it in a timely sensitive manner is desirable.

The meeting will also be the opportunity to provide an insight into the future business plans and the part the remaining employees will play.

5. Meet the Bank
The bank and other parties with a financial investment in the business should be advised of the business turnaround plans. If possible meetings should be arranged to discuss the plans and to seek assurances of continued, and maybe, more support for the business.

6. Meet Customers
Dependent upon the severity of the situation within the business it may be necessary to reassure key customers of the business turnaround plans and the benefits that will accrue for them.

This action should be considered mandatory if the cause of the business demise has been poor customer service, poor quality product or any other matter not meeting the expected/agreed customer satisfaction levels.

Begging for a second, third or even fourth chance to ‚get things right‘ may be embarrassing but remember: no customers – no business. Learn from past mistakes, do not promise what cannot be delivered and ensure internal systems, processes and communication channels are raised to a standard that will seamlessly allow business to be conducted in a timely and efficient manner.


7. Meet Suppliers
If the business has failed to settle payable accounts on time, even the murmur of business turnaround activity taking place may result in suppliers imposing draconian payment terms that may jeopardize the business turnaround recovery plan.

If support for the turnaround plan has been gained from the financial institutions and investors, it will be advisable to actively seek meetings with vendors to outline the plans and to seek their continued support.

Re-establishing trust will be critical. Negotiating new or even the continuation of existing, payment terms from a weak position will be difficult, however, all promises made should be honoured or if failure is imminent inform the vendor in advance of how any debt will be discharged.

8. Conserve Cash
Review and improve if necessary the credit management procedures. If possible negotiate extended payment terms to suppliers; examine thoroughly all unused assets of the business and liquidate if necessary.

Options that may be available include selling unused buildings, renting out spare office space, selling unused plant and office equipment, disposing of excess or redundant stocks, factor sales debt and if unavoidable make excess employees redundant.

In addition the elimination of all unnecessary overhead cost should also be actioned.

9. Implement New/Update Systems and Procedures
A thorough review of existing systems and procedures will be required to meet the goals of the business turnaround plan. Implement change if necessary; it will be noteworthy to recall that a continuation of old practices will almost certainly result in the same old results.

Positive and profitable change may be required and this should be communicated to employees, so that they understand their roles in the new business environment.

10. Monitor, Measure and Take Action
Throughout the business turnaround process, results should be regularly measured against plan and corrective actions taken if required. Key performance indicators (KPI) should be determined that will give a snapshot of the business performance and be available on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

The KPIs should include financial and non-financial measures and reflect the important aspects of the business that will determine success or failure.

Finally it will be desirable to pro-actively communicate the turnaround progress to all interested parties – employees, customers, suppliers as well as the financial institutions.

Provided sound business management principles are employed, results measured and positive trends reported, control of the business should be re-established. However, the business turnaround work should not be considered as a one-off. The experienced gained during the turnaround process should be adopted to avoid a repetition of the earlier mistakes made.

David Willetts is a qualified accountant (FCMA) and works through DAW Consulting [http://www.dawconsulting.co.uk] providing specialist financial and management support to business owners. Part time finance director, mentor, business consultant, NED and financial management consultant are typical roles undertaken to help owners take control of and plan their business whether in start up, growth or exit phase. Learn more of how DAW Consulting [http://www.dawconsulting.co.uk] can help your business.

brücke

Why?

It is an inquiry we do not make often enough. „Why?“ is the simplest form of a question, yet when it is asked, it cannot help but be thought provoking. „Why“, „what if“ and other forms of critical evaluation promote discussion and lead to improvement in our decision-making process. Even so, we all too often elect not to use these words from of our repertoire. Instead, they are often replaced by, „sounds good to me“ or some other form of passive acceptance. We should reflect on the importance of this elegantly simple but powerful trigger for critical thinking and make sure we do not allow „why“ to become part of a forgotten business vocabulary. This article explores the importance of critical evaluation in strategy planning and asking, „Why?“.

Our life lessons and common sense should be applied within our business lives, day in and day out; never left at the door when we get to the office. Just think about it. Whether it is selecting which grade of gasoline to buy or trying to determine what the difference is between the regular and the „extra strength“ brand variation that costs $.75 more — we use critical evaluation in our lives constantly and are good at it. Where we are less proficient is leveraging this skill to its fullest potential – all the time. To do so we just need to program it into the decision-making process to occur systematically so we benefit from our cognitive talents in all aspects of our lives.âEUR¨

Our strategic planning process should be leading us through a critical evaluation framework that drives better decision making. The process should automatically be challenging the status-quo of the organization in order to drive better performance through a constructive current-state critical evaluation.

  • We’re losing market share. Why?
  • Our costs containment strategy is not working. Why?

Exploring such questions ultimately leads to more questions to contemplate. „Is the status quo the right answer?“

The strategic planning process should structure critical evaluation and drive questions about current problems in the business or organization and provoke innovation and creativity channeled into addressing performance. Likewise, the strategic planning process should also challenge our collective ideas for the future state vision.

  • Is this the right next move? Why?
  • We’re not closing new business. Why?
  • Are these ideas worth pursuing? Why?
  • Is changing it a good idea? Why?

Propagating Mediocrity
Critical evaluation challenges us to think and improve. All ideas need to be challenged in order to weed out potentially risky or harmful strategies and operational tactics that could have long-term detrimental impacts on the business. Ask, „Why?“

Many times our instincts tell us that something just doesn’t feel right. Do we stop to analyze why, or think about the situation and try to determine what it is that is bothering us about it? Most of us will mull it over until the bothersome element begins to crystallize in our minds and we can then take appropriate action. Conversely, we can sometimes go with a spontaneous „gut feel“ – another over-used skill that can get us into trouble. If our gut is sending us a strong message, shouldn’t we in turn be asking ourselves „why“?

This is as true in conjunction with our day-to-day routines as it is in strategic planning. Too often we „accept“ mediocre suggestions without truly using critical evaluation to poke at the notion. It is just as damaging to excuse oneself from the decision process by deferring to weigh-in with an opinion or looking away when faced with the opportunity to evaluate data and impact a decision. Stepping forward to contribute is a valuable leadership trait and organizations need leadership.

Critical evaluation is our filtering mechanism to protect us from poor choices. Mistakes will still be made, but with our filter working at 100%, some poor choices will be avoided and bad ideas stopped. The filter is our protection from simply accepting and blindly trusting in consensus or the person speaking the loudest.

In our business world, we not only have the obligation to filter – but also to question, challenge and improve. Despite Enron’s „ask why“ tagline, it’s clear that the question wasn’t being asked and answered enough. If only the risky decisions had been averted and the unethical behavior questioned. Instead, a company has disappeared off of the map, and many lives were damaged or ruined. Many bad ideas and poor decisions can be effectively filtered out through systematic critical evaluation.

The Power Duo: „Why“ and „What If“
The same is true for seemingly „good“ ideas. During strategic planning, good ideas can be made better when challenged and defended. Without critical evaluation applied, how do we know it really is a „good idea“?

Consider the current disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico with the sunken BP deep-water drilling rig. It would seem logical that „actionable“ contingency plans would have been in place for the „what if“ scenarios. Unfortunately for the Gulf States and BP, whatever contingency plans that may have existed prior to the explosion and massive oil spill, have failed to have an impact thus far. The company would have benefited from more „what if“ planning. Better yet, what would BP’s situation have looked like today if better planning efforts and controls had been in place to begin with? Could the disaster have been avoided entirely and lives saved?

The planning process for our business must force such evaluation to take place, systematically. When a thorough planning process is followed, future-state vision and key outcomes go through a critical evaluation and are reviewed against the same evaluation criteria we should be applying to our current-state result.

  • Are we satisfied that this the best it can be, at least for now? Why?
  • What if we’re wrong on our assumptions?
  • What are the scenarios we should plan contingencies for?

Why this and not that?: The Refinement of Strategic Key Outcomes
Good leaders become great by asking, „why?“ They test for weakness in concepts, the conviction behind the ideas and the depth of analysis behind the suggestions.

Our strategic planning processes must provide that same framework for critical evaluation. It must help us select amongst the options available in formulating strategy and provide us with guidance that is true. A good planning process is like a compass that helps us find „true North“ and avoid getting lost in the woods.

The planning process should serve us in the identification of the best strategic options. As part of the process, it should aid in the relative valuation of potential strategic outcome choices and help us to prioritize our options from greatest to least beneficial.

Timeframes and Decision Gates: Analysis Coupled with Action
A structured planning process is required to pull us through to the planning conclusion, keeping us from getting lost along the way. To do so effectively, the process must couple the required critical evaluation with the necessary rigor to maintain momentum and take action. Analysis paralysis would likely result in the absence of a process built around established timeframes and decision gates. In strategic planning, at a minimum, we need to take action based on:

  • Competitive analysis
  • Return on Investment data
  • Contingencies / mitigation plans
  • Fully vetted assumptions

Established timeframes and decision gates within the process allow deferring taking action on our ideas until the „last responsible moment“. At the same time, the process continues to drive progress towards the goal of completing our planning effort. Once we’ve reached the decision point, our choices will be based upon a superior body of analysis and more thorough understanding of our options.

The Rewards of Critical Evaluation
Our economy needs businesses to thrive. To do so, we as business leaders must continuously strive to mature our organization’s strategic decision process and planning acumen. Our business cultures must encourage free thinking and reward those who constructively challenge, innovate and participate in making our models more successful by asking „why“.

 

Joe-D-Evans_579512Joe Evans serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Forte Solutions Group (FSG). Forte Solutions Group provides specialized business consulting services through two operating divisions.

You can contact Method Frameworks at 877-317-5264 (877-31PLAN4. Check our articles and blog often at www.methodframeworks.com to get many more planning tips and information about our Plan4 process.